Access Gateway Across a Divide

Wasn’t going to blog today, got way too much to do but reading this blog post from Hannah Mudge and the Telegraph article it responds to have gotten me a little worked up. The topic in question is feminism and the discussion revolves around the differences between young women who children young and those who don’t and in turn those who are actively involved in feminist politics against those who are through their very lifestyles are involved in feminist concerns, although they would never term them as such.

The language within both articles is very much “us” and “them” but I live/ have lived in a different world where the divides are much more blurred. I want to argue the case that whilst there is truth in both articles they are reductionist and through their simplification they continue to miss exploring the significance of some key political campaigns in education and beyond as well as perpetuating the marginalisation of some issues within academia.

I have taught Access Sociology students for a number of years. These classes were predominantly female, largely made up of people aged 21 – 35 with a few older people each year. The majority of young women had children and most were seeking to go on into Higher Education. When I taught feminism to these women, (as part of their courses), as well as New Right theory and Marxism they would engage in it in a way which was refreshing. They would speak out of their own personal experience when getting wound up about Charles Murray’s underclass theory.

Over the last few years of teaching the subject I used the film Made in Dagenham as a key teaching resource. It is a useful reminder about the role men have often played in encouraging women to advance their struggle/ achieve their goals as well as the way women of different classes can and do work together.

That said there is somewhat of a divide between those feminists who have emerged out of an academic environment who would claim the term and the rest of the world. This is in part because of what their personal experiences are but also because of the way in which one set of knowledge is privileged against another and the way in which one set of voices have power to be heard in a way in which others don’t.

I went and did my research on single parents in evangelical churches because no other bugger was looking at the issue. Feminism and church seemed to relate to either women in leadership or the impact of male headship. Christian feminism I would suggest needs to look at the experiences of women in the pews more and seek to examine what issues face them as women in church and beyond.

What I think these articles do highlight as well is the way that feminism needs to look more widely at what is going on in society and ask questions about how those things impact women of all classes and social characteristics.

Some issues which I think are vital for feminists to pick up on right now are:

The way the cuts and changes going on with regards to adult education are impacting women (and men) in their 20′s who want to go to go back into FE to get the qualifications to go to uni and retired women (and men) who want to engage in leisure learning particularly.

The removal of council tax benefit and the way the new local systems which require everybody to pay something are going to impact a wide range of women (as well as men) of various ages.

The discussion around removing concessionary bus fares in some areas (including Milton Keynes), particularly for young people, and the increased danger this will pose to young women if they are forced to walk in badly lit areas more.

The way funding for youth services are being cut in a large number of areas and the impact this will have on being able to address issues like domestic violence and sexual health with young people of both sexes.

In terms of women and churches I think there is scope for looking at the way older women in our congregations are treated and the expectations upon them. I know many are treated well and are happy to carry on serving and that’s great BUT we do need to look more closely at what is going on because as some churches become much more dependent upon this group I fear that there are cases where their good will is being exploited and that is a feminist issue. The fact churches are “full of old women” becomes seen as a problem….what stereotyping is going on of those women?

Beyond this there are huge questions about how we as younger feminists value our elders and their stories.

Starting to go off topic and as I say I have loads to get on with today….and so end of rant.